In this riveting story of two boys' terrible losses, Nate's father brings home a city orphan, John Worth, to help on their Nebraska farm after Nate's leg is crushed in a haying accident. Nate lies in bed for months feeling useless as John takes his place working beside Dad. Then Nate is sent to school where he lags behind even the youngest pupils. LaFaye's splendid prose evokes the searing physical pain of Nate's leg injury and John's lonely grief over his family's death in a tenement fire. The novel incorporates important themes of 19th century rural America in believable and moving ways: the range wars pitting rancher against farmer; the community's ambivalence about the need for schooling; the uncertainties of lives in which family members die suddenly and bankrupt families abandon their homesteads; and the plight of foreign immigrants seeking tolerance. The family survives by repairing metal pans and tools, and it is versatile Ma who, contrary to convention, is the tinker. Nate's invigorating idiomatic language and lively metaphors firmly ground each character and the rural setting. "The thunder kept threatening like a big old empty cloud clearing its throat," Nate observes. After the two boys chase down fence-cutters who are plaguing the community, Nate realizes that he wants John to join the family permanently. Dad subdues his shame over Nate's injury and finally confirms the worth of both sons. An excellent addition to library collections and social studies curriculum. 2004, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Ages 8 to 12.
Gr 3–6Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Crippled by a freak farming accident, 11-year-old Nathaniel is bitter, helpless, frustrated, and angry when his father brings John Worth, an Orphan Train boy, into their home to help with the chores Nate can no longer manage in A. LeFaye's novel (S & S, 2004). But the two boys, each wounded in a different yet similar way, discover they have more in common than initially apparent and slowly begin to develop a friendship based on their joint desire to save the family's farm. LaFaye's unsparing look at the grueling hardships of day-to-day farm life during the late 19th-century and the ongoing battle between farmers and ranchers for control of the land is matched by the narrator Tommy Fleming's skill at portraying the starkness of the emotions felt by each of the characters in this short, spare, and beautifully told winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for historical fiction. Speaking with an authentic Nebraska accent, Fleming captures the poignancy of Nate's battle to overcome his disability, learn to read, and reinvent himself within his unhappy family. A compelling and historically accurate story beautifully rendered.—Cindy Lombardo, Tuscarawas County Public Library, New Philadelphia, OH
"A steer you'd have to pay for, but a boy you could adopt for free," says Nathaniel after he injures his leg and his father adopts John Worth to help work their Nebraska land. Nathaniel is jealous of John, but there's enough bad feeling to go around. Ma and Pa have lost their little girl; John lost his family in a New York City fire (the reason he's an orphan); and Nathaniel fears he'll never walk properly again. Yet John proves his worth, and the two boys become like brothers as Nathaniel realizes the need to make do with what they have and get on with life. It's a lively story of two boys set against a backdrop of the Orphan Trains, range wars, lynchings, drownings, and sheep killings. Something for everyone. (Historical fiction. 8-12)
"[The] Narrative is brutally honest."
Booklist, starred review